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Category Archives: Cover Love

You may already know her, but know her newest book too

YouMayAlreadyBeAWinnerTwo days after its book birthday, I’m posting about Ann Dee Ellis’ newest middle grade You May Already Be a Winner. I had wanted to post last week when I read it on a sunny day in the backyard in my camp chair, but never got around to it. But now that it’s available, I must so that all can purchase, read, and enjoy Ellis’ work from Dial Books an imprint of Penguin Books.

The book is focused on character development in a beautifully heart-wrenching way, so our memorable character is actually the main character, Olivia, a middle schooler who has had adulthood thrust upon her. In charge of the social, emotional, and academic well-being of her younger sister, it’s been weeks since Olivia has been to school herself. But when the school threatens action against her mother for Olivia’s truancy, Olivia is sent back to school, with her small sister in tow. Rather than call attention to their issue, Olivia thinks she can hide her in a closet. To say that Olivia is overwhelmed with adult issues is an understatement made more complicated by an intriguing boy who shows up one day and the question of where her father actually is and whether he’s coming back.

This pressure is perfectly summed up in the later stages as the weight of it all begins to be too much with one of the many memorable quotes: “In that moment I felt exhausted. But mad. But exhausted.” This pressure continues and comes a head at school when her little sister is discovered and mom is called– forced to share the details of what’s been happening at home.

None of my descriptions so far have shared the tone of the book which is of quiet desperation. As adult readers, we’re forced to tears, knowing what Olivia needs but is not getting. As middle grade readers, students will see themselves or their friends who struggle with overwhelmingly adult responsibilities and empathize. So when Olivia finally can’t hold it in any longer (Go, Olivia!) I was secretly cheering her frustration to adults, specifically a staff member at school.

Memorable scene:

“‘I understand you are having some home issues.’ I say, ‘I understand you have bad hair.’

He laughs. I don’t laugh.

Olivia needs love and her childhood and instead gets parents who are trying to make the right decisions for themselves and ultimately their children but are not turning out that way. She’s angry when she finds out her mother is only a few doors away in their trailer park. She’s angry that her father won’t commit to coming back to the family. She’s angry that the boy she was falling for ratted her family out to the school. BooksforWeary

And while I’m not one to enjoy happier endings, this one did and therefore I could not completely fall in love with the book from start to finish, though I appreciated its intended audience’s need for hopefulness. It is provided.

With a lovely cover that encapsulates the book, a rough and necessary story of a girl in need of her childhood, I advise middle grade and high school students to read it since the topics of family and perseverance never get old. You’ll already be a winner if you decide to pick this one up to read.

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It’s not “odd” how much I “true”-ly adore Cat Winters’ stories

It’s true that the moment I realized Cat Winters would be at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago, that I resolved to finally meet her. I had already professed my love for Cat Winters’ writing style in this blog post from April 3, 2016 and then having finished her newest Odd and True that will be due out September 12, 2017 just a week before the conference, it solidified her unique storytelling and her articulate and creative writing because after numerous books and short stories that I’ve read of hers I can say: she’s consistently awesome.

First the book, then the picture of when we finally met!

And it all starts for me in telling you when True says to a gentleman in the memorable quote: “Tell little Celia you met a polio survivor who now hunts monsters.” This summarizes both the perseverance of the sisters, Odette and Trudchen, but specifically Trudchen during a point in history in the early 1900s that polio was a debilitating disease and one had to depend on others for help.

So when Odette encourages her sister to escape away from their aunt’s home, it becomes a magical adventure. Which leads to a memorable scene: That split second decision that True makes to get on the train with Odd when Odd returns from years away and little contact. True realizes it’s now or never and gets up from her wheelchair, abandoning it for her leg braces and hightails it on the train, leaving her aunt speechless. It was True drawing a line in the sand. Yet, in second place for a memorable scene is the resolution, which would be a total spoiler if I were to really tell you, so I won’t go there!

But I will go there long enough to tell you that for me, the memorable character while equally shared among the cast of well-developed adults might just have to be the young girl we meet at the end of the story, who we learned about periodically as that thread unfolded throughout the monster-hunting adventures and allowed readers to fall in love with Odd as much as True. It was rich and heartbreaking but why Winters tells an especially captivating tale.

While I missed her at a YA authors speed dating event in the morning, I rushed to her signing on the exhibit floor where I was able to capture the moment when I finally met THE Cat Winters.

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Fangirling aside, I advise you to make yourself a cup of loose leaf tea and hunker down for a dark exploration of monsters and the motivations of one supernatural family.

 

Dear Nic Stone

DearMartinOh, how I love thee. Let me count the ways or at least count down the days until you visit our high school library this coming fall. After reading an advanced copy of your book, Dear Martin, which will grace the shelves on October 17, 2017, we are highly anticipating our students reading it en masse. It’s the timeliness of the topic and the historical significance of Justyce writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s the rich character development and the realistic situations. It’s the deceptively simple writing that is anything but simple. In a nutshell, it’s exceptionally accessible.

Memorable character: Readers are endeared to Justyce right from the beginning and his issues are our issues. But it’s when he begins to dig deeper both with his friends, family, and himself that the learning commences. We are living with and through him. What would we do in situations that he’s in? If we would be in them at all because of our skin and age. Stone eloquently posits these injustices as Justyce writes to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memorable scene: There are several significant scenes, but the ones that stick out to me are the conversations that happen in Doc’s classroom. They read similar to a transcript and further incorporate alternative formats like Justyce’s letters to King and the narrative itself. These telling scenes provide insight into necessary conversations in understanding a variety of viewpoints: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Memorable quote: Though, one of the most memorable quotes doesn’t come from Justyce’s class discussions, instead one that takes place between him and his mom after a class discussion as Justyce is awakened to the thoughts and feelings of others: “‘Yeah. We had this discussion in class today, and… I don’t know, Ma. Everything I’m doing right now feels like a losing battle.’ She nodded. ‘Hard being a black man, ain’t it?'”

In addition to following her on Instagram, I advise teen readers to read and re-read the book, stare at the phenomenal cover, and pressure your librarians to order multiple copies to share with your friends.

 

The opposite of long

LongWayDownIt only took me half of the train ride from New York City to Albany to devour Jason Reynolds’ newest YA Long Way Down that will celebrate its book birthday October 17, 2017. Yes, we will be ordering multiple copies for our HS library. Yes, we continue to be in awe that our HS library hosted him a month after the release of his co-written All American Boys. Yes, I will read everything that this guy writes. So what’s so special about this book? I’ll start with the most..

Memorable character: By far it’s each person that walks into that elevator with Will and no, I don’t want to explain anything more other than to say that they all have their own agendas, all have their own histories, and add a deeper layer before he makes his weighty decision. Which leads to the most…

Memorable scene: Which is clearly the ending. My favorite kind of ending. The kind that ends similarly to Wink Poppy Midnight by Genevieve Tucholke or The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, which is to say darkly with a big question mark around what will happen next and, that you’re fairly certain as a reader that the author should never/could never/would never write a sequel that answers the question.

Memorable quote: And when Reynolds’ pulls off an ending like this, it’s true that the entire book was tragically and beautifully written to build the suspense and provide the motivation to do X. And surprisingly, the book is verse. I’ve followed his poetry posts on social media and know he’s gifted, so creating a novel in verse seems like a natural extension of this talent. Rather than ruin it with in-line text, here is a full-page spread in which Dani is asking Will a valuable question:

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So, what’s my advice? If you aren’t lucky enough to land an advance copy, be sure you’re the first in line on October 17th to get your own copy from your independent book store. And if you’re in charge of ordering for a YA collection, I advise you to order multiple copies. You won’t regret it.

 

Six sensational recent reads

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to a room of librarian colleagues (and a few teachers thrown in for good measure) about the hottest books for 2017 while reviewing some of the best from 2016. But what have I read recently? A lot. But not everything was a home run, so I’m picking through the trash to get to the treasures.

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Kalanithi
    • An insightful and introspective approach to science and facing death from a doctor experiencing the end to his own short life.
  2. Geekerella by Poston
    • A quirky retake on Cinderella with a Con, a pumpkin food truck, evil twin stepsisters, and one spunky Elle.
  3. The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Sandler
    • Who doesn’t want to find treasure, especially when it unlocks secrets of the past. But it’s significance is in Sandler’s approach which is to demystify pirates and change the bad reputation they have earned that is uncalled for.
  4. The Takedown by Wang
    • Attempting to take down a vile post on the internet isn’t an easy feat, but Kyla is ready for the challenge and has the guts to see it through even when it’s not pretty.
  5. Saints and Misfits by Ali
    • With a rich voice, Janna details those that are saints, misfits (like herself), and saints like others through her eyes as a Muslim teenager where her actions must match her beliefs.
  6. The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by Newquist
    • Who doesn’t love chocolate? The depth and breadth of this book is its strength, learning about the rivalries, chocolate during wartime, and the history of what was really a drink became the world’s favorite candy.
 

Seven days & counting

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A heroine with a deadline. I can definitely relate since I’m recovering from an extremely busy October where I took hold of the motto that you’ve got three choices: give in, give up, or give it all you’ve got. I got through October and Mara needs to figure out who is killing her friends and fellow freeks from the traveling circus that has been her and her mother’s livelihood. They’ve settled in Caudry and at an innocent party, Mara meets Gabe and things change.

Memorable character: For me it was Mara, a girl on a tight timeline to be able to get a hold of her powers in order to save those that she loves.What’s more endearing.

Memorable scene: Really it was the entire atmosphere of the story, not a particular scene that drives Freeks. With the resurgence of the 80s, especially after the release of season one of Stranger Things coupled with American Horror Story doing a sideshow-themed season a few years back, this is a time and ambiance that readers want to go back to. For teen readers it’s to understand and learn, for adult readers of YA, a time to reminisce. Hocking works the setting into each situation that vividly captures the imagination.

Memorable quote: It’s also this carnival world that endears readers and fears for the freeks’ lives. And who better to sum up the desperate need to catch this predator than Gideon, who also selflessly expresses why readers want to see Mara succeed when they hatch a plot to kill it. “A creature like this doesn’t just go away. We can’t run from it, and even if we can, that only means that it will harm others. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to protect those that society forgot or threw away. I can’t just leave this thing running loose to kill anything it wants.”

Boy, don’t you hope that with as little carnage as possible they catch this beast and put an end to the suffering? With romantic overtones that provide some necessary distraction, the book is a story about family: a family that travels in a circus together and wants to live and co-exist, love and laugh like everyone else.

This is advised for lovers of carnival culture, readers that have enjoyed Hockings’ other series that include Watersong and Trylle, and anyone who roots for the heroine to come out on top even when the *ahem* cards are stacked against her.

 

 

Book hug

 

I had an experience when I read Page by Paige, the graphic novel by Laura Lee Gulledge. It’s one of those books that I was reading, then looked up to realize no one was experiencing the euphoria I was feeling at that moment. It was the beautiful illustrations and the perfect encapsulation of every introverted, self-doubting girl (read: basically every girl that has ever gone through puberty). And oftentimes it wasn’t the words but how the illustrations and words connected with each other that made me hug the book when I was finished: and hugged like the best friend you haven’t seen in a year.

2016-12-09-20-04-47Memorable character: Unequivocally Paige. She is the star of the show and the title character and it wouldn’t be the book about her battle with herself, being in her head, being her every single moment of every single day. Her emotions pour out on the page through the skilled hand of Gulledge to create pages like the ones included through this post. She’s someone who is growing and maturing and reflecting, even when it’s difficult. See all of her huddled around her head? (Don’t mind all of the post-it’s sticking out of the side. We’ll get to some of the others in a moment…

Memorable quote: It wasn’t so much what she said or was thinking, but the collision of 2016-12-09-20-04-59“notice me” in her eyes when she happened upon her love interest. Everyone who has begun to fall in love has felt this way, yes? The perfect marriage of creativity and empathy for Paige.

Memorable scene: Her taking the plunge. Ready to move forward even with her self-doubt, even after confronting her mother, worried about her continued relationship, being sure she remains true to herself, being a good friend, putting her artwork out there, being vulnerable. It’s the plunge that made readers love Paige even more than we already had. She speaks to everyone and it doesn’t have to be “as a girl”, but really every teenage experience feels the same way be it in love, artistic or academic expression, in relationships with family. 2016-12-09-20-06-30Gulledge succinctly interweaves this fear when she’s holding her heart in her hands hoping not to step on the hundreds of banana peels that litter the floor.

My appreciation for this book is the same giddy happiness I had when I finished Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsh. Classically executed with readable font, mesmerizing illustrations, likable characters with the right amount of unselfish vulnerability inside of a great story. If it’s been sitting on the shelf since it’s 2011 publication date without a lot of movement, dust it off and put it on the top of the shelf. If it’s not in the collection, purchase it. If you have a teenage girl to buy for for Christmas, you’re done– wrap this one in a ribbon and bow– that’s just my advice! But seriously, go out and cuddle up with it next to a fire and live or re-live those years of epic self-doubt ruled the psyche.

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